Parish committee reinstates utility job  amid heated debate

The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury’s Personnel Committee decided to reinstate a part-time job slot in the parish’s Utility Department that jurors had purged two years ago.

The committee, composed of Jurors Cornell Dukes, Russell Young, Clifford Nelson, Kurt Jarreau and Kyle Olinde, tackled the issue Thursday night after a majority of the Police Jury on Jan. 22 temporarily blocked the employee holding the job from working any more hours after it was discovered she had kept on working after the jury revoked the position in August 2010.

The discussion over how the Personnel Committee should handle the matter touched off another fiery exchange between Nelson and Juror Justin Cox.

It was Cox who brought the issue to the attention of the Police Jury during the Jan. 22 meeting. Cox said the employee was working more than the 32 allotted part-time hours during some pay periods and the parish may have become obligated to pay for her benefits and health coverage.

“The issue is not the employee. The issue is how was an employee allowed to work when the Police Jury had voted to cease any hours she was going to work in August 2010?” Cox said during Thursday’s committee meeting.

“Who made the decision to go against what the Police Jury voted on in a regular meeting?” Cox wanted to know. “Find out who authorized it and what repercussions you’re going to take upon the person that said it was OK to do that.”

Cox added he was told by administrative personnel that Nelson had a hand in ensuring that the worker remained on the parish payroll.

“You can’t run this place like its your own employment agency,” Cox told Nelson.

“You don’t tell me what I’m trying to do,” Nelson retorted.

Nelson asserted there are other part-time employees on the parish’s payroll working without Police Jury approval as well. He also said Cox knew about the situations, but hadn’t brought them before the Police Jury.

Cox denied any knowledge of Nelson’s allegations.

“I know the authorization of it is your biggest qualm; my biggest qualm with it is the Utility Department was benefitting from a very, very savvy employee,” Dukes interjected. “I hate to see us lose that benefit if we can afford it, and we can afford it.”

Dukes stressed he didn’t want the committee to get caught up in all the “legality” of the matter Thursday night.

“That’s obvious, Mr. Dukes,” Cox said.

“I’m talking about moving forward, Juror Cox,” Dukes replied. “My thing tonight is how we want to proceed.”

“So, we don’t address the improperness?” Cox asked. “I have a problem that we don’t follow the rules and regulations of this Police Jury.”

Jarreau suggested postponing action on the issue until the parish could consult with an attorney on how best to proceed.

After Jarreau’s motion failed from lack of support, his suggestion to seek legal advice was folded into Olinde’s motion to reinstate the disputed job slot, which was approved on a 4-1 vote by the Personnel Committee.

Jarreau voted in opposition.

The Police Jury will vote on the committee’s recommendation at its next regular meeting on Feb. 26.

Editor’s note: This story was modified on Feb. 1, 2013, to correct a misquote of Cornell Dukes. He said: “I know the authorization of it is your biggest qualm; my biggest qualm with it is the Utility Department was benefitting from a very, very savvy employee.” The Advocate, which incorrectly used the word “quorum” instead of “qualm” in both instances in the quote, regrets the error.